Four days into a gas leak which forced the evacuation of an oil rig in the North Sea, the French energy giant, Total, has said it "may be months" before the leak stops. The leak has led to, according to Reuters, a "cloud of explosive natural gas boiling up from the North Sea."
Many are worried about the possibility of the rig exploding, and the possible damage this could cause. "If the gas cloud somehow finds an ignition source, we could be looking at complete destruction," said Jake Molloy, an official with the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, in an interview with CNN. "This is an unprecedented situation and we really are in the realms of the unknown," Molloy said of the leak from the Elgin platform in the North Sea, about 150 miles (240 km) east of the Scottish city of Aberdeen.
Total, however, has dismissed the possibility of an explosion. .
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A cloud of explosive natural gas boiling up from the North Sea out of a leak at Total's evacuated Elgin platform forced another shutdown off the Scottish coast on Tuesday as the French firm warned it could take six months to halt the flow.
Dubbed "the well from hell" by an environmentalist who said the unusually high pressure of the undersea reservoirs made it especially hard to shut off, the loss of oil and gas output from Elgin - as well as the prospect of a big repair bill - helped drive Total's share price down six percent on the Paris bourse.
As Shell pulled its bigger Shearwater facility offline too and an air and sea exclusion zone was declared around the forlorn Elgin rig, 150 miles east of Aberdeen, green campaigners denounced dangers in the technically challenging deep drilling that energy companies have undertaken around the globe to exploit the high prices created by insatiable demand.
The Elgin well, pumping some three percent of Britain's gas output from nearly four miles below the seabed, pushes the frontiers of technology and is one of the deepest, most highly pressurized, offshore natural gas fields in the world. It now sits empty following Sunday's emergency evacuation of 238 crew.
Total, which said the rupture of an unused reservoir above the main production source seemed to have been caused by its own engineers, is now looking at two main options to cut off the shimmering plume of gas rising above the sea: either drilling a relief well nearby, which could take six months, or - faster but possibly riskier - sending in engineers to "kill" the leak.
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Energy giant Total was trying Wednesday to contain a gas leak that forced the evacuation of a platform off the coast of Scotland.
A union representing workers on the rig warned there was an "urgent need" to stop the leak, which began Sunday.
"If the gas cloud somehow finds an ignition source, we could be looking at complete destruction," said Jake Molloy, an official with the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers.
"This is an unprecedented situation and we really are in the realms of the unknown," Molloy said of the leak from the Elgin platform in the North Sea, about 150 miles (240 km) east of the Scottish city of Aberdeen.
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French oil major Total dismissed fears on Wednesday of a blast at its Elgin North Sea platform, even though explosive natural gas is bubbling up less than 100 metres from a flare left burning when workers had to evacuate the site.
Despite the company's assurances, Total shares came under pressure from speculators, although some analysts said the gas leak off the Scottish coast did not yet appear to be as serious as the oil leak that caused BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, the world's worst marine oil spill.
However, one energy industry consultant said the platform could become "an explosion waiting to happen" if the gas continued to pour from the leak for some time.
Total said on Wednesday that the flare, which normally burns to regulate gas pressure at safe levels, had not been shut down when the platform was evacuated on Sunday.
A Total UK spokesman in Aberdeen said the flare was on a separate platform from the leak, albeit only a short distance away.
"The flare is still burning but is not posing a risk. The leak is on the wellhead platform and the flare is on the Processing, Utilities and Quarters platform. There is a gap of 90 metres (300 feet) between the two," he said.
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